Questions remain on NASCAR hall costs

The Charlotte City Council is poised to approve a $32 million addition to the NASCAR Hall of Fame budget tonight.

But council members still want to know whether there will be more increases to the project's price.

The latest increase would bring the hall's cost to $195 million, up from about $160 million two years ago.

The city is paying for most of the project with a hotel room tax that cannot be spent on anything else. The income from that tax has been better than expected, officials say. The city is also contributing money from land sales along I-277. Officials emphasize that no property taxes will go toward the hall.

The city would fund the budget increase mainly by restructuring loans and delaying royalty payments to NASCAR.

Council members say they want to support improvements to an iconic visitors' attraction for the city. But they also say they were surprised by the budget increase.

Last year, the City Council added a $2.5 million basement at the staff's request.

While the hotel room tax is dedicated to the Hall of Fame, Councilman John Lassiter pointed out that some of that revenue could be saved for later – to pay for updating the exhibits in five years, for example.

“Nothing says you have to spend all the money today on the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” he said. “We need to plan for a rainy day.”

Councilman Warren Cooksey, too, wondered if the city was prepared for an economic downturn that could affect the hotel tax revenue.

“How much of a cushion are we leaving ourselves?” he asked.

Most of the extra money – $17 million – would pay for enhanced exhibits, making the hall more interactive, according to planners. The addition would more than double the exhibit budget, bringing the total to $30 million.

Some council members said they still want to know how the money would improve the quality of the exhibits.

“How much science is behind the numbers that we have?” asked Councilman Anthony Foxx, who wrote a letter to City Manager Curt Walton on Thursday that posed several questions about the project.

Foxx also said he wanted to know what NASCAR is contributing to the hall's construction or operation.

Aside from allowing the city to defer $5 million in royalty payments over five years, NASCAR is not contributing money to the hall itself. But NASCAR officials say they will spend about $45 million equipping an office building at the hall's site.

The building will house their media group, which films races and other shows broadcast nationally and internationally. A studio where the public can watch shows being filmed – similar to the setup of the “Today Show” – will be next to the Hall of Fame, the officials said.

“It builds excitement and interest around the hall itself,” said Paul Brooks, president of NASCAR's media group.